You'll hear a lot about weaning when you have a baby. Your baby will be born about five minutes and people will start to ask you when you are planning to wean. It's always the way isn't it? It all moves far too quickly in my opinion. But it is something we all have to think about. For the first 4-6 months of your babies life their only food will (and should be according to health professionals) milk. This might be breast milk if you are breastfeeding, or formula if you choose to formula feed.
The official recommendation by the HSE is that you "should start giving your baby solid foods when they are around six months old, as well as breast or formula milk". I think the word "around" is quite important here because naturally every baby is different. Some people may chose to wean their baby a bit earlier than that for their own personal reasons, and some may decide to start a little bit later. The official medical standpoint is that you should not introduce solids any earlier than 17 weeks, and you should start by 26 weeks. So there is a bit of scope there. However, the closer to six months the better. This is due to the link between early weaning and obesity and other gastric problems. For example, if you decided to wean your baby before 17 weeks their stomach, bacteria and intestines may not be formed enough to tackle the solids. It might upset their little system.
When I was thinking about how and when I would wean Billy I was completely overwhelmed by information. Other generations told me about how back in "their day" you were advised to wean at 3 or 4 months. And that is true. As studies are done and research takes place we are always developing when it comes to guidelines. The advice will always change as more new information becomes available. But then there is the question of "how" will you wean your baby? When I was pregnant I was hearing a lot of information about Baby Led Weaning. This is a new form of weaning where spoon feeding does not happen at all. It is based on developing different motor skills alongside the introduction of different foods. It does not advocate spoon feeding. You can read more about it here. Alternatively, there is the more traditional form of weaning which is typically associated with starting with fruit and vegetable purees and spoon feeding. But how is a person supposed to decide which to chose? I definitely struggled. At first I was 100% sure that I wanted to do Baby Led Weaning, but then I also wanted to make and use purees too. So in the end I decided to strike a balance. I would start with the traditional purees and we would then "graduate" to finger foods allowing Billy to feed himself and explore different textures and foods using his hands. This has worked out really well for us.
We decided to wean Billy when he was about 22 weeks. He was just over five months and we truly felt he was ready. I am very happy with the decision we made because he took to it like a duck to water and he has been an absolute vulture every since. He LOVES food. He is seven and a half months now and all he has to do is see food and he is shouting at me to give him some. It's so funny. Or even funnier, if he sees me brushing my teeth he starts to get agitated because he thinks I'm eating something and not sharing with him. No darling, just brushing my teeth. I'm not sure if eating in the bathroom would be the most hygienic of practices!
His first ever food was a puree of carrot and butternut squash. I spend a Sunday afternoon making the food in the kitchen and I saw it as a little break to be honest. I put the radio on, chopped up all the different vegetables and put together my different purees. I then stored them in little containers that I bought in Mothercare. I kept some in the fridge for immediate use, and I froze the rest for future use. It was a rather enjoyable experience. I loved knowing that these would be the first foods my baby ever tasted, and just to add a dose of corniness to this post, I'll mention that they were definitely made with love.
Someone had told us that it would be better to try him with a vegetable puree first as babies naturally have a tendency to want sweet food. I suppose it makes sense as breast milk and formula are quite sweet in taste. After the first puree we offered him a puree of pear and apple, which he also loved. So that is where it all began. We started by giving him one little "meal" a day, then it moved on to two "meals" and then eventually he was having breakfast lunch and dinner. When we got a bit braver we introduced him to yogurt. There are some great infant yogurts on the market that have no sugar or preservatives in them. I don't think there was anything that he didn't like. Just like his mammy!
The one thing that took me by surprise was how little time you actually get out of the "puree" stage. I couldn't believe how quickly Billy could manage, and seemed to prefer, food with texture. I started being more adventurous with my flavours, combinations and the food became lumpier. He much preferred that texture. And of course then came the introduction of meat when he was six months. We found stews and soups great. So that satisfied him for a few weeks and then he seemed to want more. And so began our journey with finger foods. This has been the most challenging stage. It's a lot of fun because seeing this tiny baby have no problem eating a piece of pear or a rice cake from his hand is hilarious. It is also a bit scary though. There are times where he has stuffed too much food in his mouth and gagged, but I've always been close by to save the day. We're good at that, us parents!
Snack wise, we have found the 7+ months Organix snacks great. They do little rice cakes covered in berries, and flavoured with apple. They also do little snacks that resemble crisps but are actually baked snacks flavoured with natural things like carrot and sweetcorn. Billy LOVES these. I find one packet lasts a couple of days. He only has a couple at a time. These are great in situations where you know that your day isn't exactly going to plan and lunch or dinner may be slightly later than you would prefer. It's a bit of sustenance. It's also great to see them using their hands to eat and learning new skills.
With all the masses of information available, and so many different opinions, it really is hard to know what the best course of action is for your family. I felt the pressure to make the right decision and then in the end I just went with my gutt feeling. So that would be my advice. You know best, so trust yourself. I took the medical advice and didn't wean before 17 weeks, took the best parts of Baby Led Weaning when I felt he was ready for that, and enjoyed starting with different purees and flavour combinations. The proof is in the pudding because Billy has been fantastic with food. I wondered if his milk feeds would change but they haven't really changed that much. It's hard to tell because he is currently teething pretty badly and so feeds can be increased at this time. Milk should be offered as normal though, and is the main component of their nutrition until they are twelve months. At that point you can introduce cow's milk as a drink too, if you wish.
Throughout this weaning journey I've learnt quite a few things. Firstly, my little squishy newborn is no more. He is an independent little person who wants to do everything himself. It's bitter sweet because we all want to see our baby thrive and grow, but I think a part of us also wants time to stand still and stop moving so fast.
But I've also learned to look at my own diet. We've had many conversations about the importance of omitting sugar and salt from as much of Billy's diet as possible, only to go and douse my own food in salt. The reality is that children do what they see. We have to practice what we preach. So I've decided to use this time to wean our entire family. And by wean, I mean make healthier choices all round. If the aim is to have the baby eating with the family, then shouldn't the family be eating as healthy as possible too? So weaning Billy has had a great affect on the family unit as a whole. We have to set the example. So now I'm making tasty meals like Spaghetti Bollognaise, stews and soups from scratch and I can see it being the start of a happy and healthy 2015 for our little trio.